groceries (no groceries) lessons as I’m learning them

Just some notes from the time I was doing the no groceries challenge. The influence of the challenge is still with me, though I wouldn’t consider myself in a challenge right now.

  • Playing this game is nothing like actually not having enough money to buy groceries. Nothing at all. Knowing if I really “had to” I could get anything I needed makes the experience a personal growth exercise unrelated to poverty. I wrote about this in my newspaper column.
  • Homemade whole wheat tortillas are *really* easy and so much better than store-bought they are worth the effort. I can keep the dough frozen if I don’t have time to cook them all up at once. I used the breadmaker to mix the dough, which made it feel even easier.
  • Friends are supportive and generous when they know about the challenge.
  • My grocery shopping is much more cost-efficient. I recognize impulse buys for what they are, for example, and don’t succumb.
  • Ordering take out pizza or Chinese food is CHEATING and it started seeming like a reasonable option after a few weeks.
  • The creativity I force myself to tap into has helped me work on time management skills. I don’t do it as much as would be helpful, but meal planning and pre-prep work make being so tired takeout seems like a good option a relatively rare experience.
  • I’ll do one of these no groceries challenges again soon.

Leave a comment

Filed under mindful living, newly poor, no groceries, socio-economic class

no groceries challenge (October-November) update

In October, I spent $150.02 on groceries. Some people will see this as not much money, some will think it’s a lot. Regardless, my “no groceries challenge” has been successful thus far for a lot of reasons. Most important to me, beyond the money savings, is my return to awareness of and appreciations for the freedoms that come with having “enough” money.

Every time I think about this voluntary activity, I’m reminded of what it was like when I literally—and I mean literally—had less than $10 to my name. No credit. No cash. That level of financial crisis didn’t last very long for me, but it made an impression. Part of why I do these “no groceries challenges” is so I’ll remember what that was like; when there was no choice.

I spent $70 at the start of October to stock up so my no groceries challenge would last longer. A few bags of flour, for example, and bags of dry beans, and milk, and bacon, and almond milk, and chocolate…

What I hadn’t thought about was the impact being “without” money for groceries can have on our social life. We had friends visit us at my parents’ summer place and I wanted to feed our friends. They all chipped in, too, and my parents were fine with my using stuff they already had on hand. But what about people who don’t have the money to buy food for friends? My friend is coming from out of town tonight, and I’ve talked to her about this no groceries challenge. She knows about it, but I got upset and anxious because I wanted to try and keep going — how can I be a good host if I need to use only what I have on hand?

Of course, I could do it. I’ve been feeding my children just fine, thanks to the freezer, the pantry, and a lot of talent and creativity in the kitchen. My friend also understands and asked if I’d mind if she got herself some things in support of my decision to avoid grocery shopping.

Over the course of the month, I got cider and cinnamon sticks (for the Halloween gathering with friends) and I got milk and yoghurt. I must have gotten other items, made other “exceptions” beyond fruits and/or fresh veggies? to have a balance as “high” as $150.

shopping listI’ve decided to stock up again, today. I’m still considering it a no-groceries challenge because after this I will go back to not going at all. I’ll buy the items on this list, which includes some green tea and heavy cream for my friend, and then we’ll hunker back down again and not go to the grocery store for as long as possible. I’ll get a small turkey, or maybe even a chicken, and some cranberries for our Thanksgiving — I can make the rest of the meal with what we have.

It’s now an intellectual exercise borne of necessity, but avoiding “grocery shopping” like this continues to open my eyes to many issues: efficient use of our food, the impact of poverty on social lives, what are our family’s values? So, it’s not truly “no groceries,” but it’s still a challenge from which I’m learning a lot.

1 Comment

Filed under activism, assistance, mindful living, my life story, newly poor, no groceries, socio-economic class

no groceries challenge redux (and redux and redux and redux…)

It’s a fresh start. Again. We’ve stocked up on staples and are prepared for the challenges of yet another (strict, again, this time) “no groceries challenge.IMG_5589

Borne out of necessity this time around (again)—food is one of the few areas where I have control of the amount we spend—we’re going to see how long we can go without going to the supermarket. The exceptions will be for fresh fruit and, eventually, fresh vegetables (after we’ve gone through all we have now). Eggs and possibly milk will likely be the first items beyond fresh fruit to get us into the supermarket.

IMG_5646This no groceries challenge started a few days ago. I got some good news that has my mood up again: my daughters told me they loooove the roasted squash seeds I included in their lunch. The delicata squash rings are a favorite of ours, and they freeze well (bonus!).

In the name of having snack-y foods for school lunches, I roasted the squash seeds like I will our jack-o-lantern pumpkin seeds. It turns out they are yummy!IMG_5647

I had been doing a modified version of the no groceries challenge since August, but I made a lot of exceptions. The up side is I mostly stuck to “only what is on my shopping list” rather than getting what seems like a good idea. This saves a lot of money and limits food waste, for sure.

After the illness and death of a pet, an unexpected car repair (following an unexpected car repair due to my backing into a telephone pole), and dental work, the savings I had built up are pretty much shot. It’s back to paycheck-to-paycheck for a while. Selling what I can, cutting corners where I can, and simply revving up those good habits I’ve started developing over these few financially-tight years.

As with the very first “no groceries challenge,” I find the act of choosing to restrict my food purchases is empowering. Rather than deprivation, I’m in a place of motivation. This one’s gonna be a good one.












Filed under activism, mindful living, my life story, newly poor, no groceries, socio-economic class

the elitism of “choosing abundance”

Staying at my parents’ home for a couple days, I’m finding myself anxious as I use their food. Here, I can consume anything I want without considering whether or not I’ll need it later on.

Times aren’t so tough back at home that we go without. But the echoes of a few years ago are still loud. Every penny still counts quite a bit. I’ve stayed in the no groceries challenge mode to some degree since I started it again in August. I’m going to re-boot and return to being “strict” about it when I get back to Maine.

My parents aren’t going to worry about my using the last of their coffee, or that I’m probably going to take a few of those gorgeous peaches with me when I leave. While my father still clips coupons and my mother feeds them nearly for free from the garden, a dollar here or a dollar there isn’t something they need to think about.

Visiting my closest friend this summer, I was struck by a similar feeling. Stephanie doesn’t have the same anxiety I feel, for example, about making sure I don’t let the crackers get stale so they’ll be fresh for my daughters’ school lunches. It’s simply not something she has to consider; she has enough.

This difference in relationship to “enough” isn’t just about food. Cleaning supplies, toilet paper, socks, all of these necessities are things that we can so easily take for granted.

Years before I experienced having so little that I wasn’t sure how I would feed my children, I spent time considering the idea that a feeling of abundance is within our grasp no matter our external circumstances. I’m talking about the Sark-like “live in joy” types of lifestyles. There is some truth to those ideas; our inner worlds do affect our experience of the external world.

My experience has shown me, however, that choosing to live in feelings of abundance is only possible when we don’t have to stop to think about the consequences of running out of dish soap or using up the last bits of the butter.


Filed under no groceries, socio-economic class

the convenience of privilege (no groceries challenge)

Continuing my “no groceries challenge,” I had to resist the temptation to replenish staples as I usually would. Typically, I keep on hand an extra jelly, peanut butter, olive oil, soy sauce, diced unsalted tomatoes, and other base ingredients. That way, when I run out, I’m not stuck missing a key ingredient. With my no groceries challenge, I must not buy anything unless I “have to.” That means, when I run out of peanut butter, I don’t go buy more, I just don’t use peanut butter.

My daughters are pretty amazing when it comes to enjoying food. I shared a plate of kohlrabi leaves sauteed/braised in bacon fat and balsamic vinegar and they devoured it. [Funny, as I was writing this, both were complaining about the lame choices for snacks…] That’s just one of the ways in which I’m (mostly) lucky. It’s one way the no groceries challenge could be more challenging, though, if my children balked more at “weird” foods.

Back to stocking up on staples. I think of the time when I had so little I couldn’t afford to keep that extra jelly, peanut butter, or olive oil on the shelf. When I ran out, I was just out. It’s just one more way that having money makes life easier. We can afford to not run out of staple ingredients; we can afford to use our time efficiently. It might seem a little thing, but running out of cooking oil and not being able to make the planned meal can—when life is overwhelming because of lack of resources—feel like an enormous burden. It could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

It’s amazing to realize how having a pantry full of extra staple foods is a luxury. Of course in so many cases, just having food is a luxury. Having the time and energy to cook is also a luxury. That said, doing these “no groceries challenges” continues to open my eyes to the many ways that having enough money makes life so so so much easier in ways far beyond simply buying groceries.









Leave a comment

Filed under activism, mindful living, no groceries, socio-economic class